Oregon Trails came together somewhat by accident after I shot a telephoto north star time lapse that I wanted to see as a star trail clip (the opening shot). I loved that first clip so much that I wondered if I could also use star trail stacking to show night shots from my longer Discover Oregon and Portraits of Oregon films in a unique and refreshing way. Over a few weeks, I then reprocessed my files and put together Oregon Trails.
I love shooting time lapse because it gives me an excuse to spend time in beautiful locations and take a part of those places home with me. Most of these shots go toward making longer nature & time lapse films.
Most of this was shot on a Canon 6D, with a Michron or Radian, sturdy tripod, and Rokinon manual prime glass (14mm, 24mm, 135mm). However, there’s a handful of shots in Oregon Trails I captured years ago with my old Canon T2i, a camera I now consider ‘below spec’ for astrophotography. To my surprise, I found that the stacking process can turn even noisy and imperfectly focused shots from an old entry-level camera into beautiful star trail videos.
Depends on where you start counting from! Oregon Trails is mostly a re-imagining of time lapse content that I already had sitting on my hard drives from past and in progress projects. The entire film came together from concept to delivery in under two weeks. That said, the shots took dozens of trips around Oregon and over three years to assemble. A lot of time spent camping out with Tamara Logsdon or Lance Page and a growler of IPA. I even blew out and replaced my 6D shutter at 300,000 actuations a few months ago, but it didn’t feel too much like work!
For night shots, I’m almost always camping near where the camera is, though I have left my camera several miles from where I’m sleeping. I usually try to scout a spot before dark and then head out after sunset to set up the camera. On a bright moonlit night I might get several shots in a night, moving the camera every 45 minutes or so, but typically just one or two on a dark sky evening. Focusing with live view is crucial for sharp stars, and if there’s rain in the forecast I’ll make sure to have a cover over the camera.
After the shot, most of the magic happens in post. I’m a bit unusual in that I render time lapse with Blackmagic Davinci Resolve, which is much faster than After Effects if you have the right computer hardware. For anyone who wants to know my full workflow, I made a full 14 part time lapse course on my process from gear, to shooting, to rendering.
There are a handful of different tools you could use do this, but I used the freeware program StarStaX. Since the program doesn’t recognize camera RAW, I took time lapses I had already rendered into DNxHR 4K, and re-exported them as TIFF stacks via Davinci Resolve. I then ran these 45,000+ still frames through StarStax with a variety of different settings, and used the ‘save after each step’ setting to create separate stacks of TIFF files that showed the growing star trails. Many hours and a few terabytes of data later, I compiled these into videos with Resolve for the final film.
I couldn’t believe how the Radian spins and pans came out. In my first draft for Oregon Trails I intentionally avoided stacking shots with motion control thinking they would be a mess, but did render one as a test. Glad I decided to! Adding camera motion to the spin of the sky led to the wonderful abstract star trail patterns visible at 0:45, 2:44, and 3:47.
The solar eclipse! Have a spot staked out on a family friend’s ranch in Eastern Oregon. Hoping to avoid the crowds and get some shots to bring home. After that not sure, may try to find some lava again…
Eds. note: Here's what Tyler shot during the eclipse.
All my films are hosted on Vimeo either as free shorts or via Vimeo on Demand. The longer on-demand projects are about to go live on Amazon Prime Video, so anyone with a Prime account will be able to watch them there for free soon. For more context on my films, plus my photography and nature recordings, check out my website.
The Alpine Team